Same-sex marriage in Montana

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Legal status of same-sex unions

* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal

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The U.S. state of Montana has recognized same-sex marriage since a federal court ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on November 19, 2014. It had previously denied marriage rights to same-sex couples by statute since 1997 and in its State Constitution since 2004. The state appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but before that court could hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all same-sex marriage bans in the country, mooting any remaining appeals.



In 1997, the Montana Legislature passed a ban on same-sex marriage and any "contractual relationship entered into for the purpose of achieving a civil relationship."[1][2][3]


On November 2, 2004, Montana voters approved Initiative 96, a state initiated constitutional amendment that prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriage, as well as anything "identical or substantially similar to marital status" in the state of Montana.[4]


Rolando v. Fox[edit]

Four same-sex couples represented by the ACLU and local attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court in Great Falls on May 21, 2014, challenging the Montana Constitution's definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and related statutes. The plaintiffs in the suit, Rolando v. Fox', include three couples (Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux, Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl, Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson) who married in Hawaii, Iowa, and Washington, respectively. A fourth couple, Angela and Tonya Rolando, were denied a marriage license by the Cascade County Clerk of Court. Governor Steve Bullock expressed support for the plaintiffs. Attorney General Tim Fox defended the state.[5] On October 15, citing the recent decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Latta v. Otter, which ended bans on same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada, the plaintiffs asked the court for summary judgment. Their brief compared the texts of Montana's ban with those of Idaho and Nevada and used the Latta decision to counter the state's arguments.[6] U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris ruled for the plaintiffs on November 19, 2014, and his injunction against the state's enforcement of its ban on same-sex marriage took effect immediately. Attorney General Fox announced plans to appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.[7] At the request of all parties, the Ninth Circuit suspended proceedings in the state's appeal on February 9, 2015, pending action by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges.[8]

Donaldson v. State of Montana[edit]

In July 2010, seven same-sex couples in Montana filed a lawsuit against the state. The suit contended that even with the ban on same-sex marriage, the State Constitution's guarantees of privacy, dignity, and the pursuit of life's basic necessities and its guarantees of equal protection and due process require the state to offer same-sex couples the same rights and protections it offers to different-sex couples through marriage.[9] A state District Court heard arguments in January 2011 in the case, Donaldson v. State of Montana.[10] The city of Bozeman backed their suit.[11] The Court ruled against the plaintiffs on April 19, 2011,[12] and the plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed that decision to the Montana Supreme Court on August 4, arguing that the marriage amendment does not preclude providing rights other than the name "marriage" to same-sex couples.[13] On December 17, 2012, that court in a 4-3 decision denied the plaintiffs request to find Montana's entire "statutory scheme" unconstitutional, but invited them to renew their suit in District Court by specifying the statutes they were challenging.[14]


436 same-sex couples married in Montana in the first year after the state's same-sex marriage ban was struck down.[15]

Domestic partnerships[edit]

The Montana Supreme Court in Snetsinger v. Montana University System (2004) ruled that the state university's policy of denying insurance coverage to same-sex domestic partners of its gay and lesbian employees violated the State Constitution's equal protection requirements.[16] Montana has provided benefits to same-sex partners of state employees since 2005.[17]

In 2009, a domestic partnership bill was proposed. The domestic partnership bill would have provided for basic rights such as hospital visitation access for one's partner and joint property ownership. The bill was swiftly killed in the Legislature.[18][19]

Missoula County[edit]

On April 3, 2003, the Missoula County commissioners approved of a domestic partnership registry for the county. It went into effect on July 1, 2003.[20]


On July 15, 2013, the Missoula City Council unanimously approved of a domestic partnership registry for the city. The registry went into effect on October 1, 2013.[21][22]

Public opinion[edit]

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in Montana
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 348 ? 57% 37% 6%
Public Religion Research Institute May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017 524 ? 53% 36% 11%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 465 ? 49% 43% 8%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20-October 1, 2014 549 likely voters ± 4.5% 45% 41% 14%
MSU Billings October 2013 410 adults ± 5% 46.6% 42.6% 10.8%
Public Policy Polling June 21–23, 2013 807 registered voters ± 3.4% 42% 48% 10%
Public Policy Polling February 15–17, 2013 1,011 voters ± 3.1% 43% 49% 8%
Public Policy Polling April 26–29, 2012 934 voters ± 3.2% 41% 48% 11%
Public Policy Polling November 28–30, 2011 1,625 voters ± 2.4% 37% 51% 12%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ State Laws Prohibiting Recognition of Same-Sex Relationships
  2. ^ 40-1-103. Formalities.
  3. ^ 40-1-401. Prohibited marriages -- contracts.
  4. ^ CNN: Election 2004 - Ballot Measures, accessed April 7, 2011.
  5. ^ King, Jon (May 21, 2014). "Lawsuit Filed to End Montana Defenition of Marriage, Governor Bullock Applauds". KGVO. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  6. ^ "Montana judge asked to decide on gay marriage". Billings Gazette. Associated Press. October 15, 2014. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  7. ^ Johnson, Chris (November 19, 2014). "Judge strikes down Montana ban on same-sex marriage". Washington Blade. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  8. ^ "Motion to stay proceedings granted". Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved February 9, 2015.
  9. ^ Garcia, Michelle (2010-07-22). "Gay Montana Couples Sue State". Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  10. ^ Billings Gazette: "Gay couples argue for same rights as wedded people," January 25, 2011, accessed April 14, 2011
  11. ^ KTVM: "Bozeman Commission Backs Same-Sex Couples," September 27, 2010, accessed April 14, 2011
  12. ^ Independent Record (Helena): Matt Gouras, "Judge rules against gay couples seeking rights," April 21, 2011, accessed April 21, 2011
  13. ^ Lauren Maschmedt, "ACLU Takes Same-Sex Case To State Supreme Court," August 4, 2011, accessed August 4, 2011
  14. ^ Geidner, Chris (December 17, 2012). "Montana Supreme Court Rejects Broad Equal Benefits Claim By Gay Couples". Buzz Feed. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
  15. ^ How many same-sex couples have married in Montana?
  16. ^ Snetsinger v. Montana University System, accessed April 25, 2011
  17. ^ National Conference of State Legislatures: "States offering benefits for same-sex partners of state employees", accessed April 16, 2011
  18. ^ HOUSE BILL NO. 590
  19. ^ HB 590
  20. ^ Missoula County, Montana approves health benefits for domestic partners
  21. ^ Missoula City Council Unanimously Approves Same-Sex – Domestic Partner Registration [AUDIO]
  22. ^ Missoula City Council passes domestic partnership registry resolution

External links[edit]